Top 10 Online Colleges for Adults

Online colleges for adults make it easier for students to go back to school. With more adult students deciding to enroll in college classes each year, colleges must look for ways to accommodate those students and help them figure out ways to take classes while still meeting any other commitments they might have. That is why a number of good colleges now offer online programs.

The amount of time that it takes to complete an adult online education program depends on several key factors. Many schools allow students to transfer credits that they previously earned, even if they earned those credits years ago. The number of credits that transfer can determine how long a student remains in school. It generally takes between two and four years to earn an undergrad degree, though it can take two to three years to complete an associate’s degree. Some graduate programs that take place online allow students to complete degrees in around 18 months or less.

Though each college has its own application process, most require that prospective students fill out an online application and submit an application fee of around $15 to $50 or more. Some colleges will also waive the fee for those who need financial help. Colleges often ask for a high school transcript as well as a college transcript from students who need to transfer credits as well as an ACT or SAT score. Schools may waive the transcript for students who took one of these tests within the last five to seven years. Certain programs may ask for a portfolio that shows some of the work the applicant did. Programs designed for veterans, including those that offer financial aid for veterans, may ask for some proof of military service.

The top 10 online colleges for adults offer opportunities for students that offline colleges do not. Whether it’s flexible classes that include assignments students can complete while working a full-time job or a financial aid department that can work with students getting tuition reimbursement from an employer, these colleges offer help every step of the way. Our editors choose the top 10 schools based on reviews and information found online as well as how often these schools appeared on rankings released by publications, websites and organizations like Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, The Best Colleges, Washington Monthly and Best College Reviews.

Typical courses vary between programs, but students can expect to take and fulfill general education requirements in the humanities, math, life science, and social science fields. Many online schools also require that students take courses on communications, writing, research, and statistics. Those who transfer credits will have the option of taking higher or upper-level courses within their majors. Some programs may also ask that students do field placement work, though the colleges will help students find opportunities in their own area, even if they live a significant distance away from the main campus.

In addition to degree programs, many of these colleges offer certificate programs that students can finish in just six months or less. Earning a certificate will often require that a student take between one and three credits of work. These certificates can help them meet the requirements necessary for moving up the career ladder or for moving into a new job. Those working in a nursing or health care position might look for a first-aid certificate program or an emergency management certificate program. Some certificates are suitable for those working in the business industry and include certificates in using specific Microsoft products, leadership, and marketing.

The average salary reported by college graduates is on the rise. This figure varies based on the type of degree that the graduate has as well as the subject he or she studied. Engineers make the highest salaries, and civil engineers start out making more than $43,000 a year, while mechanical engineers can start out making close to $60,000 a year. Those working in the health sciences field can also expect to make more than $40,000 a year after graduating.

Health sciences professionals include those working as nurses as well as health care managers. Many online colleges offer RN to BSN programs that qualify students for working in management positions. These programs take the clinical rotations that students did in nursing programs and the courses they took and use those credits to cover some of the BSN requirements. Students can usually earn a BSN in around two years without doing any additional fieldwork. Other careers suitable for graduates of adult online college programs include social worker, engineer, paralegal, and teacher.

Some students may wonder how online programs different from the programs offered by traditional campuses. The biggest difference is that students receive more personalized feedback from their professors. With larger campuses, professors may spend little time with students and even leave a teaching assistant in charge of classes. As online classes may have just 10 or fewer students, professors have the chance to work more closely with their students and give students feedback that directly relates to the work they did.

Online programs also foster more interaction between students. During a traditional class, only a few students may speak out during that session. Online classes often require that students post on a message board regularly throughout the week and that they post responses to the messages other students posted. This can also help students hear other points of view and learn from those who have different experiences, thoughts, and opinions.

These programs can also provide students with more resources than they can easily access. Instead of using just the assigned textbook, the professor can upload slide shows, videos, and articles that go into more detail about the topics studied in class. Students can also search out resources through other sites. It’s important that adult students learn about these differences before enrolling in one of the top 10 online colleges for adults.

10. Brandman University

Founded in 1958 as the Residence Education Center Program, Brandman University started out as a satellite campus or extension center offered by Chapman University. The university has accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and has a strong reputation as a college that is friendly to military students, including both veterans and those currently enrolled. It has an enrollment of more than 11,000 students between its main campus and online system. The online programs designed for adult students available through Brandman include those in education, arts and sciences, business and professional studies, and nursing and health professions. Some of the available majors and degree programs include those in early childhood education, nursing, marketing, and criminal justice.

9. Northcentral University

Based out of San Diego, California, Northcentral University is a for-profit university that offers degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels as well as some specialist degree programs. Since opening in 1996, the university saw its enrollment grow to reach more than 10,000 students. Northcentral University is unique because the university operates entirely online and helps students living in cities all around the world reach their education goals. It offers bachelor completion programs designed for those who previously took college classes. They can transfer in credits and work on earning a degree in psychology, education, or business administration. Northcentral University has a rolling admissions policy and allows new students to start any program at the beginning of any week of the year.

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7. Regis University

The Society of Jesuits founded Regis University in 1877 because that religious organization wanted to create a college that would train students for working in different fields but also help them learn more about the Roman Catholic faith. It is both a nationally ranked university as well as a top tier college. Regis University offers a number of different undergrad degree programs that are suitable for online adult students, including those in criminal justice, social sciences, applied psychology, business administration, health information management, and accounting. Certificate programs available from the university in subjects like critical care and database development can help students go further in their current careers without completing an entire degree program.

6. Keiser University

Established in 1977 as a career college that offered training programs specifically designed for helping students launch their careers, Keiser University is now an accredited college that offers traditional programs as well as online options. In addition to bachelor’s degree programs and graduate degree programs, it also has some associate’s degree programs available online like those in nursing, golf management, and hospitality. Bachelor programs include multiple business administration programs with concentrations in automotive dealership management and certain foreign languages, cyber forensics, legal studies, and public safety administration. Keiser offers several MBA programs and an online RN to BSN program that allows currently active nurses to go back to school and earn a BSN.

5. Post University


Post University is the name used by an online college, a flagship campus in Connecticut, and several satellite centers. Founded in 1890, Post University offers both bachelor’s and master’s programs for online students and can help adults with financial aid, tuition reimbursement, and with choosing the right program of study. Associate’s programs let students study marketing, legal studies, criminal justice, or early childhood education and develop a strong foundation that can help when they decide to enroll in a bachelor program. The online MBA program offered by the university is popular, but students can also study higher education administration, accounting, public administration, human services, and general education at the graduate level.

4. University of Maryland University College

Though the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) started as a satellite campus and a branch of the University of Maryland, it now meets the needs of more than 80,000 students, many of whom take classes on one of its satellite campuses or online. As a college that caters to adult students, it offers adults credit for the work that they do in the field and offers exams that students can take, which will earn them credits and reduce the number of courses they need to take. UMUC also awards college credit to veterans for the work they did in the past. Information technology, public safety, management, and health care are among the more popular programs offered by the university.

3. Thomas Edison State University

Once called a state college, Thomas Edison State University is now a full university that has approval from the state of New Jersey and accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Founded in 1977, it offers degrees through five colleges on its campus. The John S. Watson School of Public Service and Continuing Studies is one of its colleges that offers programs designed for working adults. Online associate’s programs include those in computer and information technology, criminal justice, nuclear engineering technology and business administration. Bachelor’s degree programs are available in energy systems technology, accounting, general management, operations management and professional studies among others. Thomas Edison State University also offers graduate degrees and both graduate and undergrad certificate programs.

2. Charter Oak State College

Named after a historic tree that once stood in the area, Charter Oak State College is a public college in Connecticut that emphasizes the liberal arts. COSC allows students to transfer credits from another college and graduate with a degree after completing just six credits of work and doing a senior capstone project at the undergrad level. Online undergrad programs include those in psychology, health information management, cybersecurity, and business management. Charter Oak State College also offers a graduate program in organizational effectiveness and leadership. It will award students course credit for their military service and some types of corporate training. Students can also do independent learning projects for course credit.

1. Excelsior College

Excelsior College has a history that dates back to the early 1970s and served as both a branch of the University of the State of New York and Regents College before earning a charter that allowed the college to operate on its own. It is now a private college with an enrollment of more than 36,000 students. Online programs are available in six areas of study: nursing, business, health sciences, liberal arts, technology, and public service. Excelsior offers programs at the associate’s, bachelor’s and graduate levels. Students can also enroll in one of its non-credit programs to complete a certificate in lieu of a degree. Certificates are available in subjects like fundraising essentials, event management, and design and cybersecurity.


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